Archives for February 2017

Annapolis: Maryland Annual Corporate Filing Fee would be Raised Based on Company Assets

Maryland businesses have come out strongly against a proposed change in the annual corporate filing fee that would go from a flat fee structure to a progressive tax based on a company’s assets.

The annual corporate filing fee is currently a flat fee of $300 in order to maintain the legal entity’s existence in the state; the progressive tax could climb as high as $4,000 based on a company’s fixed assets.

Sponsors of the bill say they’ve received massive support from constituents with small businesses.

“This bill is about fairness,” said the bill’s sponsor, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County. “And it attempts to put businesses on a graduated scale based on their taxable assets.”

Fees would drop for 250,000 firms

Under the measure, HB691, 233,000 entities in Maryland would see the annual fee drop to $150 and another 19,000 would see a decrease to $200.  Around 11,000 businesses would continue to pay $300, according to the fiscal note.

In 2003, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich raised the fee from $100 to $300.

“Essentially what we would like to do is not make Ben Kramer Save the Puppies LLC to have to pay the same amount as Under Armour,” Atterbeary said, using the name of a committee member.

But once fixed assets pass $50,000, the fee more than doubles to $750 and climbs north to $4,000 for companies with fixed assets above $200,000.

“Why should any small business pay the same exact $300 fee…as a Northrop Grumman,” said one of the bill’s cosponsors, Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, in testimony before the House Economic Matters Committee on Wednesday. He said he had received many complaints in recent years about the regressive nature of the tax.

“This does represent a tax break for entities we often say we want to support,” he said.

Del. Chris Adams, R-Dorchester, said the fee under the bill appears to be more of a tax increase than a fee increase.

“We’re getting away from the idea that there’s a fee that we pay for the privilege of doing business in the state of Maryland and moving [it towards a tax], Adams said. He challenged Morhaim’s testimony referring to the fee as a “tax.” Morhaim quickly apologized for the characterization.

Adams said many CPAs in his district complained more about the proposal than the current sick leave bill moving through legislature.

“I got more phone calls on this bill than I did the sick pay bill,” he said. “I got a lot of opposition from the business community on this one.”

Champe McCulloch of Maryland Associated General Contractors said the progressive tax would punish businesses that investment in Maryland.

“Do you as the General Assembly want to hold business that make substantial capital investments in Maryland in disdain and [assess] a higher fee because they are committed to Maryland and committed to investing in Maryland,” McCulloch asked the committee.

Assets don’t correlate with income

Many who testified against the bill said using fixed assets could raise the fee for companies with higher fixed assets, like trucks and tools, than a small firm with very little fixed assets that makes considerably more from services, like a law firm.

Mike O’Halloran, Maryland director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told the committee that the small businesses the bill aims to help can easily have more than $50,000 in fixed assets.

“You can get up to $50,000 in taxable assets fairly quickly,” O’Halloran said. He said a caterer he knew would see an increase simply because the kitchen equipment easily exceeds $50,000 in value.

Atterbeary said the proposal was revenue neutral.

The initial expenditures to administer the new fee structure comes to $500,000 in fiscal 2018 and $66,000 annually. Revenues are expected to increase by $435,000 annually.

But Maryland Chamber of Commerce in written testimony said the bill was an attempt at a revenue increase.

“The State’s Department of Assessments and Taxation has imposed filing fees to offset the administrative cost to the State of updating corporate documents each year,” the Chamber said.  “To replace the traditional fee with a scaled fee is a veiled attempt to increase State revenue at the expense of small businesses.”

By Dan Menefee

Out and About (Sort of): Squirrels Redux by Howard Freedlander

Sometimes in this business of writing weekly columns you’re surprised by reactions, or even the lack of them. Your writing sticks out there in cyberspace, in this case, as fair game for engagement or inattention.

After last week’s column about mischievous squirrels in my Easton neighborhood, I was amazed by the response. A neighbor emailed me with his story, which his wife later amplified. Then, my British friend, who subscribes to The Talbot Spy, wrote me twice about his rodent story.

I’ve learned since the summer of 2014 that columns related to politics and animals draw the most comments, either online or by personal email. Even a phone call once and awhile. Because everyone seems to run across a squirrel or vice versa, these omnipresent animals have created a persona of their own—with stories by frustrated humans in large supply.

So, worthy readers, I feel compelled to bring forward two more stories, one belonging to Homeowner #9, and the other to a gentleman in Dorset, England.

Tara’s public enemy no. one hard at work in Dorset, England

Tara’s public enemy no. one hard at work in Dorset, England

Homeowner #9: This (the column) just reminded me of an incident from about 8 or 9 years ago. Our daughter (perhaps 3 or 4 at the time) was sitting on our living room sofa, facing the fireplace. All day long my wife had heard noises in our chimney. Having long experience with starlings falling down chimneys and coming into buildings, I coached my wife (from my safe distance at work) to put a blanket over the fireplace screen so that when the bird reached the bottom, it would not see daylight, and perhaps would rest for a moment, making it easier to capture and return to the great outdoors. If a bird is still, you can throw a blanket or towel over it, scoop it up, and carry it to the door. Again, I have repeated experience with this from a building with an uncapped chimney where my office was formerly located.

Our toddler daughter walked out to the kitchen, found her mama, and said, rather matter-of-factly,”a little face was peeking out of the fireplace.” My wife came running back, but too late. The squirrel–not a bird–had pushed past the fireplace screen and was on the loose inside the house. The volume of my wife reaction, in retrospect, may have further heightened the furry rodent’s sense of panic in these unfamiliar environs. But she (my wife)) had the presence of mind to close as many interior doors as possible, then propped the front door open. Our tree-dwelling neighbor soon found his (her? My wife didn’t have the opportunity to ascertain) way back into its customary environment.

We have a new chimney cap that, so far, has prevented recurrences of such uninvited visits.

Wife’s turn:

I feel the need to fill in a few more details that my husband didn’t include, since when the incident below took place, he was happily participating in a local meeting…

The incident was actually about 6 years ago, and my daughter (6 at the time) was sitting in the living room reading a book to her little brother (1 and a half). We also had a brand-new-to-us 2-year-old cat in the house.

I sequestered the cat, and my children into the kitchen and stood on the steps, wildly waving my hands to show the squirrel that the front door was open. However, before the squirrel noticed the front door was open, he/she could see shrubs through the glass panes on the top half of our side screen porch door, and in a move somewhat akin to that of the squirrel in the Christmas Tree in “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation,” leapt over and across the dining room table only to splat against the glass. Undeterred, it did a 180-degree turn and ran back towards the living room, but thankfully ran out the front door instead. Slamming the front door shut, I breathed, then found my phone and sent my husband one text message: “It was NOT a bird. It was a SQUIRREL.”

Even my son, who was relatively young, remembers the incident.

My Dorset, England friend: We were amused by your article about squirrels in the Talbot Spy on Tuesday. We are at war with a pesky grey rodent who has been baiting Tara (their dog) by running along the electricity cable suspended above our garden & has now descended to ground level to feast itself on our supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder.

The squirrel has a head start & has so far outrun Tara to escape up the apple tree, but it is only a matter of time before she makes contact & the rodent loses its tail as did Squirrel Nutkin in Beatrix Potter’s book of the same name.

For the benefit of your readers, perhaps you should mention that Tara is a Jack Russell (I believe that her female counterpart in the US is known as a Jane Russell). She is also known as Tara Longbody as she has a long body & short legs & is built for comfort – not for speed. My wife is going to apply grease to the pole we use to hang the bird food containers – something to do with discouraging squirrels from climbing the greasy pole of life. Much to our irritation, our athletic rodent has this morning been joined by a chum, so word is getting round the squirrel community in Milton on Stour that there are free lunches available chez nous.

As a rather benign columnist, I deliberately have avoided using names. It’s just the custom I have followed, unless I specifically have sought permission to identify my sources.

The squirrels don’t care about their victims’ names or personal histories. They are indiscriminate in their mischief-making.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Editor’s Note: For another look at squirrel battles, please go here

Letter to Editor: Talbot Mentors to Depart United Fund of Talbot County Support with Thanks

Talbot Mentors has benefitted from the support of Talbot County residents through the generosity of The United Fund of Talbot County (UFTC) for the past 15 years. While our needs are ongoing especially as we gear up to hit our goal of pairing 120 mentor/mentee pairs by the end of 2017, at a recent board meeting the decision was made to “graduate” from receiving UFTC financial support at the end of the 2016-17 United Fund campaign year. This will make room for other worthwhile organizations to benefit from the same support as Talbot Mentors has enjoyed.

The mission of Talbot Mentors is to work to ensure that all young people in Talbot County have the opportunity to mature into engaged and productive members of their communities. Through consistent support, guidance, coaching and role modeling, our volunteer mentors will strive to instill values and standards, and help these young people prepare for success in their personal and professional lives.

On behalf of the board of directors, staff, mentors and most importantly the kids who have benefitted from the support of UFTC, Talbot Mentors extends our sincere thanks and appreciation.

Natalie Costanzo
Executive Director
Talbot Mentors

Kent School Students Support Backpack Program

Led by Kent School’s Student Government Association, students at Kent School collected food items to support Kent County’s Backpack Program. The Backpack Program is administered through the Kent County Food Pantry and serves students in Kent County who are in need. Kent School students from Preschool through Grade 8 successfully donated hundreds of individual servings of food to be distributed to students throughout the county.

kent school

SGA representatives Allie Butler and Issy Leach (left side) and SGA Treasurer Jake Cerino with SGA Secretary Reed Ferguson (right side).

SGA President, Campbell Parkhurst said, “We paired grades and groups were given a list of items to bring in. That way, we made sure we would have a variety of appropriate foods to donate. Grades 8 and 4 brought Pop Tarts and granola/breakfast bars. Grades 7 and 3 brought individual serving size of soups and cereals. Grades 6 and 2 brought pudding and fruit cups. Grades 5 and 1 brought juice and milk boxes. Kindergarten and Little School students brought Mac and Cheese and Chef Boyardee.” Parkhurst continued, “We thought it would be fun to add a little challenge to our students so we decided to offer a Jeans Day if we could collect enough food to fill the front loader of our Kubota. We did that and then some. We probably could have filled two or three! We are all looking forward to a Jeans Day soon.”

Kent School began the Food Drive in early February to coordinate with Peoples Bank Chester Gras celebration which supports the Backpack Program. Kent School’s Head of School, Nancy Mugele said, “It was heartwarming and gratifying to see our students so engaged and enthusiastic about a service project that directly benefits the children of our community. I am so proud of their good work and commitment to community service.”

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The Backpack food drive is Kent School’s third service project to benefit the Kent County Food Pantry this academic year. The School hosted an Empty Bowls event in November, a canned food drive in November and December and the Backpack food drive in February. Sue Basener, President of the Kent County Food Pantry Board of Trustees said, “The partnership between Kent School and the Food Pantry is very valuable. We are so grateful for all the support their students and families provide. We are able to reach more children and families with their support.”

Kent School, located in historic Chestertown, MD is an independent day school serving girls and boys from Preschool through Grade 8. The School’s mission is to guide our students in realizing their potential for academic, artistic, athletic, and moral excellence. Our school’s family-oriented, supportive, student-centered environment fosters the growth of honorable, responsible citizens for our country and our diverse world. For more information about Kent School visit www.kentschool.org or call 410-778-4100 ext. 110.

Registration Now Open for Maryland Leadership Workshops Summer 2017 Programs

mlwThe Maryland Leadership Workshops summer curriculum offers five peer-led, week-long residential programs that empower and inspire middle and high school students to succeed and be more engaged in their schools and communities. All programs are held on the campus of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

Middle School Experience in Leadership (July 16-22, 2017): For students entering grades 6-8 in Fall 2017. Students begin to develop their individual leadership skills and learn how to identify and take advantage of opportunities for leadership in their schools and communities.

Bridge (July 9-15, 2017): For experienced student leaders entering grades 8 or 9 in 2017, who are ready for more intensive training and practice prior to entering Senior High Workshops.

Senior High Workshop (July 23-29, 2017): For students entering grades 9-12 in Fall 2017. A fun, challenging, inspiring, and fulfilling week-long experience for teens that helps them to develop leadership skills needed to succeed in diverse environments.

Advanced Leadership Seminar (July 9-15, 2017): For high school students who have attended Senior High Workshop or have completed an equivalent program/leadership experience. This program challenges students to re-examine themselves as individuals and leaders through innovative workshops crafted according to their unique needs, individual goal setting and a culminating project focused on real-world application of leadership skills.

Journey (July 9-15, 2017): For Howard County girls entering 8th or 9th grade in Fall 2017. Support for this program has been provided by the Women’s Giving Circle, a fund of the Community Foundation of Howard County. At this unique program, each student identifies her own leadership skills, strengths, and weaknesses in a supportive and fun environment, which fosters increased self-esteem and confidence.

Each program offers a supportive and fun environment to foster increased independence, self-esteem and confidence for a diverse composition of students from around Maryland and the country. Program participants, known as delegates, develop concepts and skills during workshops, group projects, committee responsibilities and small group discussion sessions. Other activities include games, variety shows, dances, and opportunities for delegates to lead activities for their peers.

Registration for the Summer 2017 programs is available online at www.MLW.org. Registration closes on May 15, 2017, and an Early Bird discount is offered to those who register before April 1. Scholarships are available. For more information, please contact Anita Anderson at 301-444-8623.

About Maryland Leadership Workshops, a division of Leadership Maryland

Maryland Leadership Workshops is Maryland’s premier leadership development program for middle and high school students. In existence since 1955, Maryland Leadership Workshops has provided generations of participants – known as delegates – with an incomparable experience to discover and develop strengths and skills essential to lifelong leadership. Using the model of facilitative instruction unique among youth leadership programs, delegates take ownership of personal development as they grow in self-awareness, set measurable goals, and collaborate with peers in diverse groups. To learn more, please call Maryland Leadership Workshops at 301-444-8623 or visit www.mlw.org.

Free Tree Seedlings Available for Qualifying Eastern Shore Landowners

Kent and Queen Anne’s county landowners who have a drainage ditch, stream, creek or other waterway on or near their property are eligible for free tree seedlings through Department of Natural Resources’ Buffer in a Bag program.

Each bag contains 25 native, bare-root tree seedlings suited for planting in wet soil conditions. The bundle will include five of each species: common persimmon, eastern redbud, spicebush, willow oak, and sassafras or swamp white oak. All seedlings are 1-year-old and approximately 8 to 10 inches tall.

Trees planted along waterways help protect and improve water quality by absorbing excess nutrients, reducing sediment, lowering peak water temperatures and stabilizing stream banks.

Maryland Forest Service staff will provide information on tree planting techniques, maintenance, and other good native species choices at the time of pick up.

Interested homeowners should call the Annapolis office at 410-260-8589, or email dakota.durcho@maryland.gov to reserve their seedlings for early April pick up. Quantities are limited so reservations will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Requests must be received by March 23rd, 2017.

Radcliffe Creek School Participates in Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibit

Since January, students at Radcliffe Creek School have been developing an exhibit for the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum on Main Street project. This project is hosted by Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Post # 25: Sumner Hall in collaboration with C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. The theme of the project is The Way We Worked. Radcliffe Creek School’s focus is on “School Houses of Kent County.”

Museum on Main Street (MoMS) is a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service program that teams up with state humanities councils to bring high-quality traveling exhibits to small communities through their own museums, historical societies, and other cultural venues. Residents enthusiastically engage with exhibition content, as diverse community members come together to share and celebrate their heritage. The Way We Worked focuses on the diversity of the American workforce, exploring how people of all races and ethnicities have commonalities and worked to knock down barriers in the professional world. The exhibition shows how we identify with work, as individuals and as communities.

To complete projects for this exhibit, all of the Radcliffe students have been participating in a special month-long Enrichment class. During this special class, teams of teachers have been guiding groups of students in researching their particular element of “School Houses of Kent County” and creating a final product for the overall exhibit. Group topics include: Songs and Games; School House Models; School House Artifacts; Skits; Interviews; and a Documentary film. These special classes afforded Radcliffe students the opportunity to collaborate with classmates and others in a community-wide event and explore local history using an interdisciplinary approach, true to The Radcliffe Way.

The Radcliffe Creek School “School Houses of Kent County” exhibit will be on display at the Garfield Center for the Arts in Chestertown on March 3, 2017 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. This event will take place during one of Downtown Chestertown’s First Fridays, a chance for visitors to not only explore the exhibit but also explore Chestertown’s vibrant arts and entertainment district. Many retailers and galleries are open from 5 – 8:00 p.m. and will feature special exhibits, entertainment and refreshments.

Radcliffe Creek School is an independent day school whose mission is to empower children in a dynamic environment that celebrates unique learning. For more information about Radcliffe Creek or Little Creek, the school’s preschool, which includes programs for children from infancy through pre-kindergarten, please call 410-778-8150 or visit www.radcliffecreekschool.org.

Working Artists Forum Donates to Local Schools

The Working Artists Forum (WAF) is delighted to announce its continued participation through annual cash donations as an ongoing effort to foster visual art in our local public schools.  WAF is a non-profit organization of professional working artists who meet monthly at the Academy Art Museum in Easton for demonstrations and discussion.  Over ninety members strong, they actively show their work both separately and together, while maintaining a strong interest in pro bono work within the Eastern Shore community.  As in previous years, a portion of the proceeds from “Local Color” is set aside to supplement art supplies in various elementary schools on the Eastern Shore.  Due to the success of 2016’s “Local Color,” WAF’s support was increased this year to include donations to 36 schools on the Eastern Shore, including Kent County elementary schools: Galena, HH Garnett, Millington, Rock Hall and Worton.

Betty Huang

Betty Huang (WAF), Christie Dugan, Art Teacher, Tilghman Elementary Kindergarten

For the past few months, various members of The Working Artists Forum have spread out over the Eastern Shore to hand deliver each of the gift cards to the schools.  The teachers were delighted to receive the extra boost to their annual classroom allocations and the students were excited and happy to show our members their latest creations.  In addition to the many cards of appreciation received from the schools, one class mailed 35 handmade thank you notes with each student saying why they love art!

Members of WAF believe that our teachers and students are an important part of the vibrant art community of the Eastern Shore and are grateful for the chance to assist in the growth and development of our young artists.  WAF’s art members are committed to a continued effort to maintain a strong arts presence on the Eastern Shore and to help “keep the creative spark alive.”  For more information about The Working Artists Forum, please see their website at www.workingartistsforum.com.

 

Profiles in Philanthropy: Trustee Dick Bodorff on the Academy, CBMM, and the YMCA

Periodically, the country’s new president has referred to some his cabinet appointments as coming from “central casting.” Using his unique phrasing, President Trump is clearly referring to a person who is a perfect fit to a particularly difficult position to fill.

That definition could very easily apply to Talbot County’s Richard Bodorff and the extraordinary roles he has played on local Talbot County nonprofit boards.

A Washington DC lawyer during the week, with an exceptional background in the world of the federal communications law and regulations, Dick and his wife have made Talbot County their second home the last seventeen years. But rather than simply pursue his love of boating and other recreation activities while in residence, Dick made it a point to truly invest in his adopted community by joining several important governing boards of local nonprofit organizations and bringing with him his special skills and Midwestern common sense.

The Spy sat down with Dick a few weeks ago at Bullitt House to talk about his background in communications starting as a kid growing up in Illinois, followed by a early career at the Federal Communications Commission, including work on the famous George Carlin “seven words” controversy, and eventually his role as partner at the law firm of Wiley, Rein, advising clients on the FCC’s incentive spectrum auction and regulatory advice. He currently serves on the boards Academy Art Museum, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, YMCA of the Chesapeake and shares his thoughts on those organization and what it meant to be successful nonprofit organization.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length

Why Maryland Does Not Need A Fracking Ban by David Montgomery

The fracking revolution is the best thing that has happened to the United States thus far in the 21st Century.

“Fracking” is short for “hydraulic fracturing,” the final step in a sequence of new exploration techniques that pinpoint precisely where oil or gas are located, directional drilling that makes it possible to reach reservoirs previously too thin to be worthwhile, and use of water pressure and sand to open cracks in rock where oil and gas are trapped. In just about ten years, this incredible technology has given us cheaper energy, cleaner air, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Investment to take advantages of these improved technologies provided the only sustained growth in jobs and income that appeared during the tenure of President Obama. Fracking cannot harm water supplies and does not cause earthquakes. The chemicals involved are harmless, and you use every one in your home now.

Nevertheless, the Maryland legislature is considering two very bad bills that would ban and criminalize the use of this technology to expand production of natural gas in Garrett and Washington Counties. Supporters of this ill-conceived legislation are defending the ban with a combination of innuendo, half-truths, and outright fabrications. It just seems impossibly galling to progressives that something really good could happen for which government can take no credit at all.

Now that my position is clear let us turn to some true facts, not the alternate reality in which the opponents of fracking live.

Screen Shot 2017-02-27 at 12.58.20 PMHydraulic fracturing is one of the great success stories of private initiative. It builds on the computer revolution to locate and get at oil and gas deposits that only a few years ago were thought impossible to use. Those deposits contain huge quantities of oil and gas, but the hydrocarbons are trapped in the pores of rocks, and can’t get out of those pores into a well. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping fluids at high pressure into the well to cause cracks to appear in the rock so that the oil and gas can flow.

The idea of doing this was around for a long time. The problem was finding the right fluids to make the cracks and a way to keep the cracks open once the pressure was released. A Texas oil man named George Murphy, may he rest in peace, put his own money into experimenting with all sorts of possibilities and eventually found a combination that did the trick.

Since the fracking revolution started, U.S. oil production has nearly doubled, and natural gas production increased by 40%. Before the fracking revolution, pundits were talking about peak oil and peak gas and how the days of plentiful energy were over. Since the revolution oil and gas production just continues to grow. Natural gas prices were cut in half, and oil prices fell to one-third of what they were before the revolution. Despite claims about methane leaks and global warming, methane emissions from the natural gas system have also fallen.

Hydraulic fracturing technology has made the USA a world energy superpower again. We produce more oil and more natural gas than any other country. Even Saudi Arabia and Russia have fallen behind us.

Guess what. This all happened on private land where the landowners welcomed the oil men because they shared in the rewards. Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Colorado were the top producers and the four fastest growing states from 2010 to 2015. They have prospered immensely from the investment and employment opportunities that came along with fracking. Poor Maryland, though it has large deposits in western regions, sits fearfully on its hands and remains one of the slowest growing states in the nation, despite all the good things Governor Hogan has done.

First, to deal with claims of horrible things that have, will or might happen due to fracking. Very few, if any, verified complaints about oil and gas drilling have anything to do with the specific use of fracking; they are due to accidents, errors and criminal activities that are rare in the oil and gas industry and would be just as likely with conventional drilling practices. The only thing fracking has done is bring about a great deal more drilling than was predicted even a few years ago, disappointing those who want to prevent us from having more and cheaper energy.

Understanding how the technology of directional drilling and fracturing works is all that is needed to understand why so many claims are bogus. First of all, any kind of oil or gas well may go through aquifers and underground water supplies, and the standard practice of casing and cementing wells until they are far below any usable water prevents contamination. As a side note, the famous pictures of flames coming out of kitchen faucets is old news, and happened long before current hydraulic fracturing practices were introduced. It has happened when water and natural gas were both drawn from shallow underground reservoirs where they were intermixed. With fracking, this is literally impossible.

Water supplies are found within 1000 feet of the surface, far above any deposits of oil or gas that might be fracked. The Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland is down around 6000 feet, and the deposits are only few hundred feet thick. It lies below impervious layers of rock that trap not only water but natural gas itself that comes out of the shale. The shaft is drilled straight down 6000 feet into the shale rock, than a guided drill bit turns the corner and drives horizontally through the relatively thin reservoir. From a single pad, it is possible to drill multiple such horizontal wells, accessing a huge 2-dimensional area with minimal surface disturbance or impact on neighbors.

Underground, the well is perforated within the reservoir so that oil or gas can flow. Up to this point, everything is the same for conventional drilling or fracking. To get the oil or gas to flow from the rock like the Marcellus shale, a mixture of 95% water, 4.5% sand and less than 0.5% other additives is pumped in under pressure to crack the rock. The cracks propagate several hundred feet, which is enough to open up the oil- or gas-bearing rock.

The additives used in fracking are mostly common household chemicals like pool cleaners, table salt, anti-freeze, laundry detergent, disinfectants, food additives and cosmetics ingredients. In addition to being nearly harmless, these fluids are being put into the ground a mile below any water supply, separated by many layers of impervious rock. There have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing itself in 1 million wells fracked over the past 60 years, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

A lot of water is used for this purpose, and its disposal must be managed carefully. The current state of the art is to recycle the fluids so that water disposal is no longer an issue. Otherwise, the water is reinjected into depleted wells or other locations equally deep in the ground.

The industry has learned how to manage the reinjection process to that it does not trigger seismic activity, as sometimes happened early in the application of the technology in seismically active regions in the Southwest. Nevertheless, there are constant reports of “frequent, small earthquakes” where fracking is taking place. That is true, but intentionally misleading. One might think that a “small” earthquake would resemble something like a heavy truck driving past, which measures around three on the Richter Scale. The seismic activity that fear-mongers claim is caused by fracking is around -2 on the Richter Scale. Since going down a point on the Richter Scale reduces the energy of an earthquake by a factor of 10, going from 3 to -2 reduces the energy involved by a factor of 100,000. Literally, seismic activity from hydraulic fracturing is noticeable only to sensitive seismic instruments.

Finally, the entire fracking process is tightly regulated by state and federal rules, no matter what its opponents say. To mention a case I know well, Governor Hickenlooper (D) of Colorado created a model regulatory system through negotiations among all concerned parties, and Colorado is becoming a major user of fracking. I mention this because Maryland legislators seem willing to follow Colorado’s idiocy of legalizing marijuana, but not its sensible approach to energy policy.

I like to end on the good side of the story, the facts about what the fracking revolution has accomplished.

The price that gas utilities pay for deliveries of natural gas from interstate pipelines has been cut in half since 2005, from $8 to $4 per million BTU. This has been a tremendous boon to the U.S. chemical industry which now has the cheapest feedstocks among all our global competitors, as well as to consumers who pay less to heat their homes. U.S. production of natural gas has increased by 40% in just ten years, and has displaced coal for electric power generation throughout the United States

Cheap and plentiful natural gas has lead to improved air quality and an immense drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, our carbon emissions are down more than 10 percent. We have cut our carbon emissions per dollar of GDP by closer to 20 percent. This means that despite all the posturing by supposedly Greener countries, we have reduced our carbon emissions more than virtually any other country in the world, including most of Europe.

World oil prices have fallen by two-thirds, largely due to the massive increase in U.S. production, saving hundreds of billions of payments for foreign oil and depriving state sponsors of terrorism of billions in revenue. Crude oil prices dropped from $103 per barrel in 2011 to $45 in 2015. U.S. production climbed from 8 million barrels per day in 2008 to 15 million barrels per day currently. Just four years ago, gasoline cost on average $3.64 per gallon, last year it cost $2.14.

So why the hysterical reactions? There have been isolated problems – largely due to local subcontractors disposing of wastewater improperly – but banning fracking for that reason would be like banning crabbing and oystering because a few waterman harvest illegally.

I believe we are observing again a social phenomenon that has happened frequently in the history of environmental regulation. It involves the acceptance of unfounded claims due to social pressure and reinforcement from politicians, media and social groups with whom we associate. It affects everyone – politicians who uncritically repeat what they hear whenever it appears to advance their careers, celebrities who are too dumb to think on their own but understand how to get publicity by attaching themselves to a cause, and all of us who hate to appear contrary in social settings. It is manipulated by activists who seed the process with false news.

This is not the first time this has happened. Remember when Meryl Streep was telling you that alar on apples would kill you? The Governor of New York and EPA officials knew that scientific tests had proven that there was nothing toxic in Love Canal but jumped on the bandwagon to create a massive new liability and regulatory empire. For a great analysis of how and why this happened, there is a fascinating paper by a behavioral economist and a law professor, Cass Sunstein, who served as regulatory czar in the Obama Administration. http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1036&context=public_law_and_legal_theory

The opposition to fracking is conducting a misinformation campaign that would make the Russians proud. It is promoted by those who hate oil and gas in principle, who don’t want us to have cheap energy, and who want to keep it in the ground at all costs. No falsehood about fracking is beneath them, because their end justifies the means. We on the Eastern Shore should not be fooled.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.